A Time of Change: Gratitude to Michelle Ramos & News on What’s Ahead

Michelle Ramos at ROOTS Week 2019. Photo: Melisa Cardona


September 19, 2023


Dear Community,

It is from a deep well of love, gratitude, and support that we announce the departure of Dr. Michelle Ramos from her Executive Director position at Alternate ROOTS. Michelle’s final day at Alternate ROOTS will be Thursday, September 21. In her five years as Alternate ROOTS’ Executive Director, Michelle led us to unprecedented financial stability, championed staff wellness, and directed transformative initiatives within our organization and in the field.

In this time of leadership transition we are strengthened by our nearly 50 years of being changemakers in the field of art, culture, and justice. Creating change is what we do as justice-loving artists and organizers, and this is a time of change. We are moving forward with confidence and clarity, drawing from the wisdom, creativity, and support of our community.

Please read on for an organizational statement honoring Michelle’s many accomplishments as ROOTS’ Executive Director and detailing our leadership transition plans.

With Gratitude,

Alternate ROOTS Executive Committee Officers:

April C. Turner, Chair
Ace McColl, President
Sacil Armstrong, Secretary
Priscilla Smith, Treasurer

A Time of Change: Gratitude to Michelle Ramos

As Executive Director, Michelle led from the strength and diversity of her background as a professional dancer, civil rights lawyer, and PhD in cultural psychology. In just five years – and in the midst of the pandemic – Michelle grew Alternate ROOTS’ annual budget from $1.2 million to over $3 million, expanding our institutional funders from 6 to 19. Among the resources she secured for ROOTS were: the Ford BUILD grant, MacKenzie Scott funding, and support from Surdna for the first intentionally multi-year partnership program that ROOTS offered in our organization’s history. In 2020, she organized with the Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI) partners to secure $5 million for COVID response grants, $1.2 million which was distributed by ROOTS to artists in our region.

Michelle led a myriad of new initiatives within Alternate ROOTS, the impact of which is felt by both members and staff. She guided two key member and staff-led processes: the 2019 strategic planning process and our 2020-2021 infrastructure assessment (via the Ford BUILD grant). The latter revealed the clear need for a Membership Department, which Michelle established. Michelle also championed staff health and wellness policies including ROOTS’ first-ever comprehensive healthcare plan, competitive staff salaries, monthly office and wellness stipends, and a Chrysalis month.

In the arts and justice fields, Michelle spearheaded the BIPOC Led Arts Advocacy Coalition (BLAAC), securing funding and designing a new model for national arts advocacy. She also represented ROOTS as a pillar member of the Southern Power Fund, joining with movement partners throughout the South to win and redistribute over $18 million to southern organizers and artists.

“Michelle’s contribution to ROOTS has been exceptional,” ROOTS’ Executive Committee Chair, April C. Turner, expressed, “and her leadership and dedication have significantly impacted our organization’s growth and success. We wish her the absolute best in all of her future endeavors.”

What’s Ahead: Interim & Long-Term Leadership Plans

Caption: Wendy Shenefelt and Paige Heurtin, ROOTS’ Interim Co-Executive Directors. 

Michelle announced her departure to ExComm and staff  in August; since then, Alternate ROOTS’ Executive Committee has developed a plan for our interim and long term leadership transition.

Current staff members Wendy Shenefelt (Cultural Organizing Director) and Paige Heurtin (Managing Director) have been named as Interim Co-Executive Directors. As ROOTS’ longest-serving staff members, Wendy and Paige will provide continuity of leadership. They are both deeply connected to the ROOTS community – including members, partners, and funders – and bring a wealth of organizational experience to their roles. April affirmed: “Wendy and Paige have the full confidence of the Executive Committee, members, staff, and other stakeholders to successfully navigate the work of the organization during this time.”

Long-term, the Executive Committee will be conducting a full search for Alternate ROOTS’ next Executive Director. More information on this will be shared in the coming months, including ways for members and partners to engage in the process.

In this time of change, we remain steadfast in our commitment to being a sound, resilient, and visionary organization. We understand that our strength and stability are the cornerstones upon which we build our future. Thanks to Michelle’s leadership, ROOTS is well positioned to navigate this season of transition.

“Alternate ROOTS is still on mission,” April said, “we are still moving forward. We are still engaged in community, continuing the work of bringing social change through the arts. ROOTS will continue to innovate and serve communities into the future.”

Our future will be our focus as we move towards our milestone 50th anniversary. Together, we forge ahead with enthusiasm and a renewed dedication to our shared vision of a more just, equitable, and creative world.

Thank you to Michelle for all you have given Alternate ROOTS. And thank you, members, partners, funders, and allies for being an essential part of the ROOTS journey.

Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.